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Businesses remain ignorant of new bribery and corruption laws

New research from international law firm Eversheds has found many businesses are in the dark over the new Bribery Bill, which received its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The laws, which are expected to come into force later this year, will mean that all businesses need to have ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent bribery and corruption occurring.

These will include an anti-bribery policy, training of staff, closer scrutiny of purchasing decisions, clear rules on corporate entertainment and gifts as well as a hard line taken on those found to be ‘greasing palms’ to win business.

60% of businesses are unaware that failing to prevent bribery will be a criminal offence, said the Eversheds Corruption Clampdown report. A failure by a business to deal with bribery issues could lead not only to the individual directors facing prison but also the business facing a substantial fine.

“This worryingly relaxed attitude towards the Bribery Bill could see businesses fall foul of the new law.”

Neill Blundell, Eversheds

The report reveals a lack of knowledge and understanding about the new laws, even at the top of UK businesses. The report, which canvassed the opinion of almost 700 executives, found that one in five organisations don’t have robust systems to prevent bribery from taking place.

There is also confusion about what constitutes bribery. While 73% of those surveyed understand more explicit forms of bribery – giving or receiving an illicit payment – there was a lack of awareness of the more discreet forms that will be covered by the bill, such as offering a commercial advantage or offering and receiving lavish gifts.

Almost two thirds of respondents (60%) were unaware of the new corporate criminal offence of failing to prevent bribery committed by employees or agents acting on behalf of the company.

Eversheds head of fraud group Neill Blundell said there is a “real lack of awareness” pertaining to the Bribery Bill. “Many businesses aren’t set up to minimise their exposure to corrupt business practices,” he said.

“The new laws bring significant responsibility for directors who will need to carefully monitor all procurement and sales activity within the business, including deals done by agents and intermediaries.

“If for example, an agent used to secure business commits bribery to win a contract, the business could be held criminally responsible for failing to prevent the act of bribery by the agent. If any directors or officers of the business have become aware that the agent has acted in such a way and failed to act, they too could face prosecution and imprisonment.

“This worryingly relaxed attitude towards the Bribery Bill could see businesses fall foul of the new law which could lead not only to directors going to prison but the company facing a severe financial penalty.”

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